What is exactly espresso roast?

I write this blog trying to answer questions that I usually get when selling my coffee. One of the most common questions is: Is this coffee roasted for espresso. Well, where should I start. I don’t believe there is such a thing as “roasted for espresso” or “espresso beans”. In my experience we should enjoy the wide variety of coffees that nature has given us, and roast each coffee to its optimum roast. After that, we brew it to its best independent whether this is an espresso, a mocca, filter, cold or turkish coffee.

There are, nevertheless, different degrees of roasting, which names are a little bit arbitrary. But before going into this I first need to explain something about the roasting process. Roasting coffee is basically nothing more than slowly heating up the beans, but when doing so different process take place. Obviously the beans change colour: starting from green they get yellow, light brown and then darker and darker brown. While it’s getting darker brown chemical processes take place. At a certain temperature the sugars in the coffee beans start caramelizing, which releases water and carbondioxide gas. This makes the bean rapidly expand and sounds like making popcorn. This moment is referred to as first crack. Caramelizing continues with increasing temperature until all sugars have transformed and at this point the bean itself start decomposing: the physical fracturing of the cellulose matrix of the coffee begins. This point is called second crack because the beans again make a crackling noise; not like popcorn as with first crack, but more like the sound of crunching paper. First crack is clear to hear and hard to miss. Second crack is less predictable than first crack and the moment when second crack occurs highly depend on the type of coffee.

But, returning the different degrees of roast:

Light cinnamon: Beans have a light tan, flavour is dry, unpleasantly sour, little or no body. Reminiscent of cereal.

Cinnamon: Slightly darker than light cinnamon, but the taste and texture is little different.

City Roast: Light to medium brown; at the end of first crack. The bean surface is smooth due to the expansion during roasting. At this point the coffee starts giving off carbon dioxide. This was once the predominant roast in the United States. Varietal variance distinct. To our opinion the lightest roast one would like to drink, because starting from here coffee starts to taste like coffee.

Full City Roast: Medium brown. Coffee is at the verge of second crack. The beans have a slight sheen of oil. Body, flavour, and aroma are quite balanced.

Vienna or Light French: Medium to dark brown with drops of oil on the surface, second crack is under way, greater sweetness, carbonized sugars lend a caramel flavour; body exceeds acidity.

French: Surface is dark brown and lightly coated with oil; burnt notes become noticeable, acidity low.

Italian or Full French: Almost black, with a lot of surface oil. Tasted clearly burnt; acidity and even body are almost undetectable.

Judging the roast only from colour is tricky since different coffees have different colours at the same roasting temperature or degree. Our Galapagos, for instance is a light-coloured coffee and even at light french roast, while our Cariamanga Caturra is dark brown starting from the first crack. There is no standard in roasting: depending on weather conditions the temperature where first crack occurs may range from 170 to up to 190 degrees. Second crack may follow first crack almost immediately or only at considerably higher temperatures. So the trick is in the combination of monitoring the colour and the temperature and listening to first and second crack to decide whether the point one wants to stop roasting has been reached.

We studied and tested our coffees and decided to roast them to Full City Roast. Does this mean that they are suitable for espresso? Sure! We love espresso and we enjoy our coffee the best like that. We realise that many espresso drinkers believe coffee for espresso should be French roast or Italian roast, but we believe that an important part of the flavour of the coffee gets lost when roasting coffee that much. We like to distinguish the flavour of each coffee and that can only be done if not all sugars have been completely carbonized yet.

Roasting coffee the best possible way depends on many factors and also is a personal preference as some people prefer their coffee more bitter and others more acid. Whether a coffee is suitable for espresso or performs better in filter coffee depends on the body and after taste of the coffee. This is something specific for a coffee and the degree of roasting has only very little influence on this. Therefore we don’t like the idea of having a special “espresso roast” as it’s not so much the roasting that makes a coffee suitable for espresso, but it’s the coffee itself.

Finally, if you are curious about the roasting progress, check our youtube video:

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